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First Attempts…

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

The prototype process eventually grew into a plan. We knocked on doors in the area to invite everyone to a co-design workshop in the Macro Centre. People were to come and bring along their favourite plant. Then we’d help them to design a piece of public furniture or object based around the plant which would then be fabricated by the council’s joinery department and installed near the designer’s house for a week, to see if it worked in situ.  Then, when it was removed, it might leave a kind of vacuum which people might want to fill with their own interventions.

But no-one showed up.

So what went wrong? Perhaps it was something to do with mixed feelings people had about the Macro. Maybe it was too big a step to expect people to go out of their way to go to a workshop. We may have overestimated how active people wanted to be.  Maybe there just wasn’t enough notice, groundwork, buy-in and build-up.

So I tried to bring the mountain to Mohammed.  I called round door to door again, armed with modeling materials and a sketchbook, to try and run the process in a quick, one-on-one way.  While this was more successful (anything is more successful than running a workshop where no-one turns up), the furniture design aspect was beside the point. The revealing (and disheartening thing) is how little anyone wants to make any sort of addition to the area that can be in any way abused by any one else.  Some people don’t want a bench, because homeless people might sleep on it. Others don’t want flower planters because people might throw cans into them and attract flies.  They don’t want a sandbox because sand would be kicked around. They don’t want window boxes because kids will tear up the flowers. They don’t want bird boxes because the council told them to stop feeding the pigeons from their balconies and that prohibition is presumed to extend to other birds.

What people do want is to have railings installed around their front doors so that they can wall off their own little piece of turf and keep everyone else out.

Everyone wants to be listened to. Many want to be consulted. A few want to see how things work, but not very many at all want to be actively involved in their area and the few who do seem to be constantly blocked.

Back to the drawing board.

Prototyping Process!

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

What did I hear?

Relating to the post-it topics previously blogged about, here are some of the quotes and observations  that led to those topics;

My Lack is About…

Ownership and citizenship.  There’s an anecdote I’ve heard which probably summarises it nicely;

A councilor was canvassing around some flats. A woman answered the door to him and when asked if she had any issues or problems, swung the door back and forth at him. It squeaked. She pointed in at her husband in the sitting room and said “His heart is broken, he’s up and down to the council everyday about it and they haven’t done a thing.”

Before you judge the woman in the story (whether real or fictional) think about every time you’ve complained to your landlord to fix something in your rented house; every time you’ve seen something wrong and said “Someone should do something about that” and not been that someone; every time you’ve ignored something because it wasn’t your problem. It’s easy to demand something be done by someone else if you feel it is outside of your remit, or that you’re not allowed to intervene. If you’ve been told you can’t decorate or perform DIY in your house, perhaps the natural assumption is that you shouldn’t oil the hinges either.

My Core Thesis

But where did that come from?

But what is the underlying ambition behind the motto? It implies that if there was ‘obedience’ to the law, if everyone followed the rules, harm would be minimised and everyone would be happy (if you read ‘happy city’ as ‘happy populous’).

If this were the literal case, if everyone obeyed the law and no more, then the city would certainly run more smoothly and no doubt be more pleasant overall. But shouldn’t we set our ambitions higher? If a person falls on the street and hurts themselves, there is no legal obligation to aid them.  Can we go above and beyond the demands of law? If instead of being told to ‘obey’, we were encouraged to be active, to create, to help?

I propose a new motto for Dublin city;

Feel free to correct my Latin.

Having responsibility means having a duty of care towards, or control over, someone or some thing. Coming from the same root as ‘response’, the word ‘responsibility’ as a concept is inextricably bound up with notions of control – personal or collective – and also entails a degree of action (response).

Just to reiterate:

Responsibility and control are two sides of the same coin. They feed into each other cyclically.

The net result of this cycle is a sense of ‘ownership’. Ownership is not something that can be bestowed on someone (outside of the literal sense of ‘owning’ something). As a concept it is merely the side effect of someone (or a group) having agency (control) and a perceived duty of care (responsibility).

For someone (or a group) to take ‘ownership’ of something, certain factors have to be present;

All these factors must be present (and usually in order, from bottom up). If any are missing, it is Somebody Else’s Problem.

In the above diagram, “Permission” can also be seen as falling into “Control” – as in, ‘it is potentially under your control’.

Some really everyday scenarios could be the following;

So, if we examine the six criteria for active ownership a little more closely:

“Can you IDENTIFY the problem”

To solve any problem, one must first be able to consciously and objectively recognise it. In addition it must be spotted early so it can be addressed before it becomes unmanageable and related problems must also be identified so that the solution works.  It is also important to address whether the problem is a symptom or a cause. If it is the former, then the underlying causes must be followed back until you can identify at which step in the chain you have the capability to intervene. Something may annoy you for years without you ever becoming aware of what the actual problem is. We simply, unthinkingly tolerate a bad situation because we are not mindful enough. A problem arises between what “should be” and what “is” and it is often difficult to identify what “should be”.

“Do you ACTIVELY want to solve it?”

You may identify a problem, you may have permission to address it, but if you don’t care, why would you ever do something? My bedroom is a mess, I’m certainly permitted to clean it, but once it stays below a certain volume of clutter, I don’t care and hence don’t tidy. Apathy can be more pernicious than simple tolerance of a situation, however. It is a serious social problem when considered as inherent passivity. The causes vary from group to group and may stem from enabled passivity (learned helplessness), consumerism (the demand for instant gratification), relinquishing control (submissiveness), generally not being held accountable for your actions and a thousand other reasons, depending on the individual or society in question.  Someone may not tidy their room because their mother does it for them so they don’t have to, because they allow someone else to do it, because nobody else ever puts pressure on them to do so (because it is not a shared space). To solve the problem of apathy, you must first discover what the root of it is in a certain scenario.

Do you feel you have (or can you get) PERMISSION?

Permission comes in three flavours;


Overt permission is when it is obvious that you are permitted to perform a certain action; it is directly stated. It may be that you can park in a car park or skate in a skate park. It is obviously impossible to list all of the activities you may perform in a given space because the possibilities are infinite. Overt permission does not rely on verbal or written signs. It can be communicated through objects. For example, it is possible to sit on any flat, solid surface, but the presence of a bench states “This is a place for sitting”. Our society tends (at least verbally) toward the opposite tack – listing the activities you are not allowed to perform (No dogs, no smoking, no ball games, etc.), because when it comes to the fuzzy middle ground of things you may or may not do (where it is unclear which activity is permitted or not) damage limitation (forbidding certain activities) is preferable to encouragement (stating which you may do). This approach is endemic in Ireland, leading to people generally presuming that a given activity would be prohibited (following from the precedent of the “No”s). We could describe this as tacit non-permission (more on that below).

One particular project which plays with the idea of overt permission is “Freezone” by Bosch & Fjord, which displayed signs around Copenhagen suggesting certain activities in given areas. For example, meditation areas, prayer zones, picnic spots and kissing areas.

The creators state that these signs “created free zones where one was allowed to deviate from conformity” but I have my doubts. It may have just created a localised conformity to slightly unusual behaviours and it is questionable (though not impossible) whether the participants realised that their activities could be performed anywhere and not just in these temporary zones.

Tacit permissions are given when a precedent is set somehow. For example, although it is obvious that you may park in a car park, on many streets it is not clear. In cases like this, people will generally look to see if someone else has performed the same action before doing it themselves. Tacit permissions are about setting a precedent or implying a permission somehow. This is dependent on at least one person deciding that permission is irrelevant.

Irrelevant permission doesn’t really exist. Ostensibly it describes a situation where someone decides that permission for a certain action is irrelevant to them. For example, someone on a bike may break a red light to make a left turn because the risk is minimal and the reward is good; the rule regarding red lights in this situation is irrelevant to them. However, in these cases, social mores are extremely important. While one may break a formal rule, they have tacit permission from their peers. Graffiti is an obvious example. It may seem that permission as to whether or not you may graffiti somewhere is irrelevant to the practitioner, but in actuality is fraught with complicated social rules which vary group to group and individual to individual.

“Do you KNOW how to solve it? Do you have the RESOURCES to solve it?”

What knowledge and resources you need are dependent on the particular problem, but for big issues, you will often need to outsource to some degree. A problem cannot be solved if you don’t know the right way to go about it. If you want to make use of a certain space for example, you may protest to get use of the space to no avail. It may be because you have gone about solving the problem in the wrong way. Research, mentors, advisers and sponsors may all be necessary. Knowing what the first step is is often the most difficult thing. Relating to the previous step, you may feel that acquiring permission is theoretically possible, but knowing how to go about it relates to this step.

“Is it WORTH it?”

It may be worth your while to perform a certain task because the outcome alone is reward enough. In other cases, there may have to be additional benefit. Risk, liability and effort must be offset by benefit, tangible or otherwise. Reward may take the form of the solution of the problem, personal pride, sense of wellbeing, cash or other hard benefits. For an action to be worth performing, risk or effort must be minimised and reward enhanced.

Good Advice

Monday, February 21st, 2011

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”

-America’s most bad-assingest president, Theodore Roosevelt.


Monday, February 14th, 2011

So what’s the answer to all this? As the hot dog vendor said to the buddhist, “Change comes from within”. Even if hypothetically, I could go into the markets with an enormous budget and solve all of the problems with the built environment, it wouldn’t solve the ownership/citizenship issues. In fact, it would probably reinforce them. So the solution? Revolution!

Albeit a small, nice, polite one.


All Aboard The Owner-ship

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Each of us is taking one of the ‘lacks’ as a basis for prototyping in our area. Mine is:

In a way this is the key lack, not just in the Markets area, but in Ireland in general. Possibly even throughout Western society. The heading is split into smaller issues;

1. “Lack of understanding of civil rights.”

In theory the council/political system is there to ensure the best care for the citizens of Dublin, but whether or not services and schemes are utilised by citizens depends on their understanding of what is available to them and how to go about availing of them. For many people, knowledge of the system is simply absent. Do you know who your local councilor is? Can you name all you TDs?

2. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease – selfish use of civic voice.”

Conversely, some people are very au fait with where the political system touches their lives and how they can influence it, but a minority can have a very negative influence on local issues, selfishly pushing their own agenda rather than looking at the greater good – classic NIMBYism.

3. “Tacit permissions”

This point relates back to an unspoken – almost subconscious – understanding of what you are/are not allowed to do in a public space. In general, the presumption is to automatically err on the side of actions in public being overly restricted. Possibly stemming from a societal structure riddled with ‘don’ts’ (No parking, no loitering, no ball games, post no bills, etc.) the implication stretches even to the presumed prohibition of positive interventions in public space.  A good example of this is the fact that even planting flowers in a public place is a borderline radical act . There is no easy solution to rectifying this deep-set mindset, but it is obvious that unspoken permission must be given for people to feel that they can take ownership of their local environment.

4. “Learned helplessness”

Low internal locus of control, enabled passivity, there are a few ways of framing this particular mindset. In any case, it is closely related to the above point, but is more pernicious. It is clearly visible in social groups who have been subjected to a certain amount of nannyism.  If a person is not offered control or responsibility for their own well-being, eventually the lines of what they are or are not permitted to do become blurred.  For example, if you are someone who rents a house, you are not generally allowed to make permanent (or semi-permanent) changes to that house. If the landlord won’t let you paint a room or put up a shelf, then that denial of responsibility and control filters through to other elements of your relationship with your rented home. If your tap was leaking or your gutter was broken and it was your own house, you would no doubt fix the problem, if it was within your capacity to do so. In a rented house, the tendency would be to complain to the landlord to fix it.

5. “Me & Mine – responsibility ends at the door”

Again, a similar point, but on a slightly different scale. A person may be extremely house-proud, but this pride in their surroundings ends at the front door. Their sense of who they have responsibility for extends to their families but not to the community beyond. This is another extremely difficult problem to address, but the co-operation of neighbours and the building of tight communities is a step towards solution.  In some ways, people must worry about what their communities think about them. If the individuals in a given society are fragmented or do not communicate, then why should one care what the neighbours think? A community need not be extremely local or small. A good example of this collective responsibility/judgment can be seen in New York, where if you had the audacity to let your dog poo on a public street, there’s a good chance you will be verbally assaulted by passersby. In contrast, Irish people so rarely pull each other up on their inappropriate behaviours that this man’s actions were unusual enough to warrant being posted on youtube;

<iframe title=”YouTube video player” width=”640″ height=”390″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/-tVKbURRlLg” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

6. “Collective Good”

When we don’t know our neighbours, we don’t really care about them. Hence we think about what’s good for us as individuals, not what’s good for us collectively. We need to collective;y think about the bigger picture and realise that our dealings with others can be a non-zero-sum game; we can all win.

7. “Power/Responsibility – You won’t take responsibility if you’re offered no power”

The core fundamental point. Governments an councils may be frustrated that their citizens won’t get up and do things for themselves, but where’s the payoff for them? Power and responsibility are two sides of the same coin and nobody will take one without the other. Of course, citizens in Ireland actually do have a lot of power, but may not understand how to wield it or even realise that they have it – see point 1.

8. “Individualism vs Collectivism”

It’s important to hit a balance with this one. It’s not all or nothing, ideally we want a society with the best of both; citizens who can stand up for themselves and take a can-do DIY attitude, but still understand their place within a collective society, can band together and look out for the collective good.

9. Autonomy

Fundamental to anyone’s satisfaction within society. Self-control and self-governence – independence. Even if only within a limited, personal sphere.

10. Wizard of Oz

Ah, the Wizard of Oz. Sort of a metaphor for the whole mess. DCC is like the Wizard; he might make you jump through hoops, but if you’re lucky, he’ll help you learn that you had the power all along. Click those ruby heels together!

11. “Improved conditions vs stability”

Just a small side note on the problems of no having control over your surroundings. If a public housing scheme needs renovation, then the tenants are temporarily or permanently re-housed elsewhere. While renovation may be necessary, the trauma of a forced move should not be underestimated. After all, it may be unscientific and subjective, but moving house is consistently listed in the top ten most stressful life events.

12. “More Power Than You Think”

Self-explanatory point here. You really do have more power than you think.

I realise that some may view these points as contentious. Feel free to retaliate in the comments section.

Tricky, Tricky

Monday, February 14th, 2011

All of our conversations with the stakeholders in the Markets area have been simmered, reduced and distilled down to a series of key ‘lacks’, some of which are shown below. We know it’s unusually negative of us to frame issues as a ‘lack’ but it helps to see the challenge clearly and get y’all riled up.

Open Day

Monday, February 7th, 2011

On Thursday 2th Vincent and I headed out to the markets to ask retailers, business holders, artists and educators about their opinions of the markets area and which challenges they faced in working there.

Some very pertinent points kept arising, though opinion was split on some major issues. Some of the things we heard included;

“Just demolish the place and rebuild. We need to move with the times.”

and conversely,

“I’d like to see any development plans retain the area’s sense of character…use existing buildings.”

“It has the potential to be a new Temple Bar, but more authentic.”

“There’s lots of opportunity for niche or specialised business.”

“The advantage of the Markets is that there’s room to expand.”

“The car park is a waste of space.”

“New families are isolated and as a result, so are their children.”

Food for thought indeed.

To Market, To Market

Monday, January 24th, 2011

We mapped, we walked, we looked at data, we read reports, we consulted oracles, we asked people, we threw darts at a map and finally, we decided where we were going to work. We’ll be skulking around (in a nice way) in….. *drum roll*… the Markets!

“The wheres?”, I hear you collectively mutter. Yes, the Markets. The area roughly enclosed by Capel St, Church St, North King St and the Liffey. It’s an amazing, textured, labyrinthine place that seems to have fallen out of Dublin’s contemporary consciousness. Riddled with decay and neglect – some beautiful, some sad – the place is teeming with history, wonderful people, character, stories, odd little back alleys, open spaces and most of all, potential.

It’s genuinely bizarre that many Dubliners don’t seem to register the area at all. It’s often confused with Smithfield, but it’s very clearly its own quarter. Although it’s not the most visually inviting of places, the fruit markets are open to the public for retail (pop in for some bargain fruit, veg and flowers). The whole area seems to have a sense of ‘looking in on itself’. It’s full of winding little back streets and tall, blank walls. The place seems to hint that it has exciting secrets, lurking in little corners.

Gotta love these giant walls.

I’d recommend popping down there at different times of the day; the contrast is astonishing. In the morning, it’s all bustle, with forklifts buzzing around and trucks squeezing through the lanes. In the evening, it’s so quiet it borders on desolate.

A final note; anyone with an interest in typography, hustle on down. Maser’s They Are Us project may have garnered a lot of attention, but original, hand-painted shop signs abound down here and sadly, they may be an endangered species.

Where to Work – My Bets

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

While the mapping exercise shown in the previous post was interesting and knocked out some assumptions I’d had about the different areas, it didn’t really help to pinpoint an area to work in.

The Best Place in the Whole Wide City.

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

We’ve talked to a lot of people, we’ve been all over the city, we had a great exhibition (lots of retroactive blogging to be done on that, you’ll see a big omnibus catch-up post over Christmas) and now the time has come to pick a place in the city to start prototyping our ideas. We’re looking for somewhere that needs more love. Somewhere that, like the awkward girl with glasses and bad hair in the cheesy teenage romcom, is just brimming with potential.

But where? There are so many places in the city that need a bit of love and attention.  We’ve decided to use GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to help us. It sounds complicated but the GISt (ho ho!) of is it is this; take a map.  Plot data about certain things on it. Keep the different kinds of data on separate layers (a little like photoshop).  Turn on and off certain layers until you can see correlations with different kinds of data.  Clear? No? Don’t worry, there’ll be an example in a moment.

To help me in my mapping, I decided to take three sample ares in the city, picked completely at random (I took a map and threw a marker at it. Scientific!). I then marked these mini-maps with different information to build up a picture of the place.

First of all, The Talbot Street/Marlborough Street/Lower Gardiners Street area.

Then I plotted all the commercial units. I’m going to turn off the map here, just so that the data points alone build up the picture.

Then added the residential.

Then the vacant units.

That big cluster of yellow up there is Marlborough Street. Very unloved altogether. Next I added schools and youth clubs.

Which gives us one lousy dot. The light blue one up there is a school and there are no green dots (youth clubs).  Interestingly, if this map had been a little tiny bit further north, enough to take in Sean MacDermott Street, we would have seen loads of dots, as well as dozens more blue residential  dots. But I digress.  Next I looked up apartments for rent on Daft.ie. I worked out the cost per room and plotted the locations.  The darker the dot, the more expensive the rent.

Finally, I tried to get information on crime statistics. Tricky. The Gardaí consider this confidential information and only release it averaged over large geographical areas. So I did the best thing I could, which was to plot the number of burglaries in an area. What I did was draw a large red dot – proportional in size to the number of burglaries – on top of the nearest Garda Station, in this case Store Street Garda Station.

Here we have the magnificent petri-dish of Talbot Street.

The process was repeated for the other two areas; Kevin Street/Harcourt Street:

Lots of residential spots here, as well as a surprising number of vacant units.

And here we have the Bolton Street/King Street North area:

So here we have a comparison between the three areas:

Note that there are far more burglaries on the south side than the north. Now, what’s interesting is if we take the Talbot Street are and compare it to the Kevin Street area with regards to number of residential units versus how many are available to rent;

You can see that there are a comparable amount of properties to rent and that both areas show a broad price range. However, the Talbot Street area has far fewer residential areas overall, while the Kevin Street area has loads.  What this might imply to me – and I’m only speculating here – is that perhaps people move to the Kevin Street area and stick there while there may be a much higher turnover of residents in the Talbot Street area.